From the Desk Gina Chisholm, Vice President – Marketing + Technology

Gina Chisholm

The promise of new technology beckons compellingly.  Greater automation! Scalable systems! Happier employees!  However, every time you introduce new technology into an organization, your chances of a totally smooth implementation might be characterized as slim to none.

At best, you might encounter the usual trials associated with large-scale projects: scope creep, budget overruns, and frustrated end users. At worst, you might find yourself among the 15% of corporate projects that are deemed outright failures, as reported by the Project Management Institute (PMI).

Want to set yourself up for success?  Here’s five tips to help you reach go-live with your sanity intact and build excitement and trust among your end users along the way.

1. Demo, Demo, Demo!

Technology moves fast, so get involved in more than a cursory way.  One trick is to start early… really early.  Do your due diligence months (even years) in advance by keeping abreast of new products.

I’ve made a habit of demoing at least one new product a week. I’m always upfront with vendors about my process and purchasing intentions (usually zero).  Without a rich understanding of the tech landscape, you may not be in position to recognize when a truly awesome—or truly awful—product comes across your desk.

2. Sit in the Pit

The single most important thing we can do to evaluate technology-enabled process improvements is to watch people do their jobs. Often, workflows are so ingrained that employees don’t consciously think about how they do what they do or how it affects the next person down the information chain.  The remedy is less conversation, more observation.

It’s a tall order to become an SME at every position impacted by new technology.  This approach gets you up to speed more quickly so you can take on the role of change agent.

3. Get Predictive on ROI

In ROI land, “long term” doesn’t exist… despite what your vendors promise.  For example, here’s an equation many vendors tout as proof of ROI: Benefits = (labor units savings) * (cost of the labor unit).

As the argument goes, if a new ERP system enables six people to do the work of 10, you realize the annual labor savings costs of four employees. But what if those people are redeployed to another project and continue to draw salaries and benefits?  Those purported savings may or may not impact your business case.

In an article for ITProToday, David Strain argues that a “triumvirate” of Returns-on-Investment, Time-to-Value, and Total-Cost-of-Overhead “…should remain a dominant element in discussions and practices involving any of your vendors.”  You must anticipate and fully understand those factors upfront—with the guidance of stakeholders at all levels—before you e-sign that contract.  What will ROI look like in your world? What metrics will prove the technology is working as intended? Analyze those questions before you get sold on benefits that may never accrue.

4. Stay in the Box

During the course of your implementation, it’s likely—maybe even inevitable—that you’ll uncover a need for customization. Maybe your manual processes don’t translate exactly to the new system hierarchy. Maybe a circuitous path has sprung up to transfer data between disparate systems.  Or perhaps you’ve got a squeaky wheel who’s struggling to adapt.

Consider the fact that you might need to change your processes to match the new technology, rather than the other way around.  Tap into your vendor’s expertise to get outside your comfort zone and get on top of change orders before they blow your project up.

5. Get Ready for the Long Haul

You may breathe a big sigh of relief, but the task’s not anywhere near done when you reach go live.  North American companies spend over $161 billion on corporate training initiatives each year, or about $1300 on average for employees, according to trainingindustry.com.  But when it comes to adopting new technologies, many companies take a “one and done” approach.  To get users through the emotional curve associated with change, invest in a continuous feedback loop and refresher training.

As an example, KellyMitchell recently deployed a virtual chatbot assistant for everyone in the firm. Although we staged our deployment to build up intelligence, we weren’t getting the expected productivity boost. So, we took a deep dive and found that usage was both inconsistent and narrow. We started proactively engaging on high-potential tasks, which prompted more usage and trust in the system.  We still meet once a month with end users to make sure the platform is earning its keep.

No Such Thing as “Done”

There’s a reason legacy systems get that way. By frontloading your analysis and extending your training, there’s a better than average chance your technology implementations will deliver higher value to your organization.  Just don’t expect immediate gratification!